Ukraine’s Oscar contender premieres in Kyiv despite blackouts

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Ukraine’s entry for next year’s Oscars, a drama about a family living in an occupied village in Eastern Ukraine, has premiered in a packed Kyiv cinema despite fears of power cuts and air sirens as Russia’s war enters its ninth month.

Many uniformed Ukrainian servicemen were among the at least 400 viewers at the showing of “Klondike”, which tells the story of Ira, a pregnant Ukrainian woman who refuses to flee her village when it is captured by Russian-backed armed separatists in 2014.

Ira’s partner Tolik comes under pressure from friends to join the separatists, while her brother is strongly pro-Ukraine.

The film also depicts the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 nearby, which international investigators have blamed on the separatists, something they and Moscow deny. The wreckage of the plane forms a haunting backdrop to the film.

Ukrainian director Maryna Er Gorbach says her film aimed to show how ordinary people try to carry on living even amid catastrophe and how they are torn between the love of home and the desire to be free and safe.

“For the whole 100 minutes of the sitting I had to keep an eye on the news in case of air raid sirens. There were none so I am very happy,” she tells Reuters.

“We have a generator here now too, if an air raid alarm starts, those who want to leave can leave. But the showing will continue.”

Commenting on the theme of her film, she said many foreign viewers had contacted her to say they had not known that fighting had already erupted in Ukraine in 2014, eight years before Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February  24.

“Now the world is demanding to know what is happening in Ukraine,” Gorbach says, adding that her film did not try to take political sides but to recount a complex, human tragedy.

Viewers at Monday evening’s premiere, part of this week’s Kyiv Critics’ Festival, were impressed.

“I’m so glad to see Ukrainian cinema of such high quality represented on the international stage, especially by women,” says one attendee, Alina Zivakova.

Another, Vadym Dotsenko, a puppet theatre actor, says: “It’s very painful to see these images, knowing that the war continues, that these events continue. These villages aren’t made up, what we see on the screen is real,” he says.

The film goes on general release in Ukraine next week.